Pulpit Freedom Sunday Sparks an Old Controversy

by Ryan on September 29, 2008

in Culture,Election 2008,Religion

Yesterday was “Pulpit Freedom Sunday:” a time when 32 pastors across 22 states decided to test the separation between church and state against the IRS and judicial interpretation that certain speech is political, and thereby if spoken forom the pulpit would risk the tax-exempt status of the church in question.  The Alliance Defense Fund want to get the state out of religion and away from the pulpit. 

As it turns out, the 54-year-old law being challenged was actually initially proposed by Texas Senator Lyndon B. Johnson. 

The “wall of separation between church and state” line most heavily quoted from Thomas Jefferson was actually penned in 1802 thanking the Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut, for their support of Jefferson in the tight 1800 election.  Jefferson’s point was to assuage the Danbury Baptist’s fears that a state religion would hamper their ability to practice what is clearly their First Amendment rights against the entrenched Congregationalists in CT.

Religion has long been infused with politics, and remains so even today in many churches around the country (Reverend Wright anyone?).  I agree with the Pulpit Initiative in that churches should be allowed to identify those who agree or disagree with their point of view.  It should be protected speech, rather than a target for the IRS.

Here’s the First Amendment. 

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Notice the highlighted phrase. Is the IRS ‘prohibiting the free exercise” of religion by threatening pastors who identify candidates whose positions are abhorrent to that faith’s fundamental beliefs?  I think the Pulpit Initiative and the conservative Alliance Defense Fund have a case against the meddlesome IRS.

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